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Waiting for Willa

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Today I’m headed to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to wait for my muse. She often visits me at the grave of author Willa Cather.

Willa never meant much to me growing up, just a writer that my father liked, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation for her since writing an odd bit of memoir/biography about her in grad school. Our lives meshed in my mind. I tried to understand who she was, what motivated her, what she feared, why she wrote. I think she appreciated my respect and curiosity — bordering on obsession — and she has since come to live in my heart with my Dad.

So I’m off on my pilgrimage. The forty-five minute drive is glorious in the fall, even on a dreary day like today. I will sit on the stone wall that surrounds Willa’s grave and talk to her about my life, about my writing, about my aspirations, about my frustrations.

She listens. So does Edith, her life partner who is buried next to her.

And I’ll wait. Because Willa usually answers me. No kidding. And I need talking to, most especially about my writing and where it’s going. Or not going.

Here is the story of my first visit to her grave, taken from the grad school essay that I have yet to publish:

As I step into the Old Burying Ground and pull the gate closed behind me, I am completely alone. There must be a thousand monuments covering the hillside, and I wonder how Ill find Cathers grave. I begin wandering among the granite slabs, some standing askew, others lying broken in pieces. Small American flags flutter in a slight breeze, and a few polished stone obelisks reflect the setting sun. I read the worn names underneath patches of gray and green lichen: Spofford, Pierce, Worster, Brigham. A large square stone marker standing in the lowest corner of the cemetery catches my eye, and somehow, I feel certain its hers. As I walk toward it, I can see dozens of small rocks lining the top of the gray marker, and I know Ive found it. Admirers have left talismans to honor her. I realize its quite possible that my father made his own pilgrimage to this simple shrine during one of our stays at the farmhouse down the road.

Her grave is next to a low stone wall that marks the southwestern corner of the cemetery. Just outside the wall grow gnarled rhododendron bushes and towering pine, beech, and maple trees. The marker itself is about three feet tall and the same across. Around it is a small garden of impatiens, encircled by rectangles of cut granite. The sun casts shadow branches on the face of the gravestone, and I have to lean in close to read the words:

WILLA CATHER

December 7, 1876 April 24, 1947

THE TRUTH AND CHARITY OF HER GREAT

SPIRIT WILL LIVE ON IN THE WORK

WHICH IS HER ENDURING GIFT TO HER

COUNTRY AND ALL ITS PEOPLE

“…that is happiness, to be dissolved

into something complete and great.

From My Antonia

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Who’s Your Best Friend?

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This is a special day, but not for the reasons I thought it would be.

Today my blog is one year old. I have drafted a half-dozen anniversary posts, but I’m going to trash them. They aren’t very interesting. I haven’t the time to navel-gaze right now (a collective sigh of relief from my readers) because I’m celebrating a bigger anniversary: fifty-five years with my oldest and best buddy, Elaine.

We became next door neighbors when we were three. We’ve traveled together from kindergarten through high school graduation and far beyond. I’m godmother to her first son, and I was Maid of Honor at her wedding . . . both times.

Hanging Out

Elaine has come to stay at my New Hampshire retreat. She used to spend a month here each summer, but hasn’t visited in forty-plus years, so we’re having a blast visiting old haunts and discovering new ones.

We’ve been blueberry picking and hiking and “thrashing in the kitchen,” as she calls our culinary efforts. We eat too much cheese, drink too much local mead, and stay up too late.

We watched the outstandingly bad 1972 “amphibious horror flick,” Frogs and then we watched Thelma and Louise.

Look closely — Elaine’s lurking in the blueberry bushes:

Lost in the Blueberry Fields

Becoming One with the Blueberry Bushes

We’ve been playing one of our favorite games, World Famous Nature Photographer:

newts nh 012

Stalking Killer Ferns

In the mornings, I work on my thesis and she works on her children’s story. In the afternoons, she does some serious work while I supervise. (Hey, my ribs are busted!)

Elaine Tackles the Apple Tree

Elaine Tackles the Apple Tree

Yesterday we visited Willa Cather’s grave, one of my holy sites, and then wandered around an interfaith peace garden called Cathedral of the Pines before taking in an outdoor classical music concert and a fireworks show in the shadow of Mount Monadnock.

That is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great.

That is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great.

I hope you have a friend like Elaine.

If you do, please honor them in my comment section!

Thank You!!

A big “thank you” to those of you who have followed my blogging adventure over the past year, especially those folks who were companions before my big Freshly Pressed moment in the sun.

Blessings!

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